Seemingly revived and coming off a big win over Cleveland on Saturday, the Blast had the perfect chance to further state its case yesterday afternoon in the NPSL's cramped American Conference race.
Instead, the Buffalo Blizzard continued its surge by playing an ideal road game, while Baltimore -- a touch off, a step behind and clearly outworked -- let it happen in an 11-7 defeat.
Harrisburg's 17-11 loss to Wichita yesterday allowed the Blast to remain tied with the Heat atop the conference standings.
With the playoffs only a month away and every remaining game more precious, the Blast played poorly, but still had a fourth-quarter opening it didn't bother looking into.
For the home team, explaining the loss to a Buffalo team that has spent the majority of the season at the bottom of the standings was as difficult as watching Blizzard midfielder Randy Pikuzinski close the game out with a three-pointer into an empty goal with 1:33 left.
"I don't think we played with the energy and desire that normally is the tradition with Blast teams and it came back to haunt us," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "When we play hard, with a lot of energy, we're a good team. When we don't, we struggle."
The Blast (19-13) came in as winner of its last three games and aware that six of its final eight games -- including the next three -- will be on the road. Instead of leaving on a roll, it leaves wondering why bother shooting for home-field advantage?
"I think everyone will agree losing six games at home is unacceptable," said defender Jason Dieter. "We have to look in the mirror and figure out what we need to do to make this thing happen.
"We just threw away a win by losing today and it all comes down to protecting your turf. Until we start figuring it out, teams think they can come in here and beat us."
The Blizzard (16-16) has now won eight of its last 11 to reach the .500 mark and move past the Cleveland Crunch (15-17) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the conference.
The Blast, which begins its road trip in Buffalo on Thursday, has helped, dropping its last three meetings with the Blizzard and four of six for the season.
Danny Barber contributed much of the Blizzard's offense yesterday with two two-point goals, and keeper Bryan Finnerty turned aside 15 of the 18 shots the Blast fired.
A three-pointer by defender Ronnie Simmons was the only offense the Blast could muster in the entire first half, but a goal from Tarik Walker in the third quarter -- cutting Buffalo's lead to 8-5 -- put the home team within striking distance.
And then, when Blizzard forward Doug Miller missed a wide-open net early in the fourth quarter and the Blast quickly countered, with Mark Thomas finishing off a feed from Paul Wright to get within 8-7, there was a sense that the game could be salvaged.
But with more than 10 minutes to make amends, the Blast didn't come close to getting anything past Finnerty. Danny Santoro was set up nicely along the left side, but sailed a shot high and wide. Simmons had a hard strike from a tough angle on the other side that missed just wide.
Then Pikuzinski put it away, winning a ball in his defensive third and finding the mark with a sixth attacker on the field for the Blast.
"We felt we could take the game, but we didn't finish off the chances and they made some good stops," said Thomas. "It's very frustrating. At the beginning of the year, we talked about wanting to dominate in our home facility and we haven't done that. We let some games go by."
Buffalo 0 2 6 3 -- 11
Blast 3 0 2 2 -- 7
First quarter: 1. Blast, Simmons, 3 pt., 9:23.
Second quarter: 2. Buffalo, Handsor, 2 pt., (Little), :19.
Third quarter: 3. Buffalo, Barber, 2 pt., (Hesch), :50; 4. Buffalo, Butcher, 2 pt., (Barber), 3:28; 5. Buffalo, Barber, 2 pt. 7:07; 6. Blast, Walker, 2 pt., (Johnson), 8:46.
Fourth quarter: 7. Blast, Thomas, 2 pt., (Wright), 4:53; 8. Buffalo, Pikuzinski,3 pt., 13:27.
Shots on goal: Buffalo 5-7-10-4--26; Blast 7-10-10-5--32. Power-play opportunities: Buffalo 0-for-0; Blast 0-for-0. Goalie: Buffalo, Finnerty, 18 shots, 15 saves; Blast, Hileman, 15 shots, 11 saves. Att: 4,324.